The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Lesson of Coventry: A Fragment of Autobiography

My last post used, in discussing the Anglican Crisis, a photo of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (and a quote from Shaw), to make the point that adversaries become all too often willing to destroy the beautiful based upon a caricature of the other side that allows for the pleasures of self-righteous rage. (George MacDonald Fraser once famously wrote that "hell hath no fury like a justified Christian," a remark we all should try not to live down to).

But Coventry deserves better than to be an example, and especially it deserves better from me. Because Coventry is where I went from being a vague theist, who believed God existed, but didn't feel any particular connection to Him, to being a Christian.

When I graduated law school, my parents took myself and my sister on a family vacation--a package tour of England and Scotland. It was a whirlwind affair ("ooh, look--there's Stonehenge! Gotta run!"), and we spent hours on a bus with tourists from Australia (a charming older couple), a family from Germany, and quite a few from the U.S. But it was my first time away from Norh America and I loved finally being in England.

And then we got to Coventry. The frail beauty of the old cathedral underlined the devastation wrought by the Blitz,and the new cathedral's modern lines reminded me of the swaths of raw concrete in London which replaced the neigborhoods bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Then I went into the ruin, and walked about marvelling at the devastation, and at the shell of the cathedral. I couldn't focus on the tour guide, because I was stunned that anyone could leave standing so utterly hollowed out a shell--

and then I encountered the altar. Or rather, the roof-beam cross fashioned by a cathedral craftsman, named Jock Forbes, shortly after the Cathedral was bombed in November 1940.

And then I knew why the buiding still stood. To commemorate not just the loss, but the fact that in November of 1940--with pain and loss all around, and the odds still massively tilted against national survival--Christians could, as the tour guide told us, hold a mass for the German pilots as well as the British dead. And that they could put up on the ruined sanctuary's wall, behind the cross, the words "Father, Forgive." That they could forgive, and seek reconciliation.

And that is when I knew that Christianity was not just true, it was alive. On a cold damp morning in Coventry, I discovered it because a group of Christians half a century before my visit rejected anger, rejected bitterness, rejected hatred, and and lived their faith.

And that is how mine became a reality, and not just assent to abstract principles.

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